LeBron James has not missed the playoffs in the previous 13 seasons. His first two seasons in the NBA are the only two in which he failed to make the postseason. His streak of 13 is second among active players, with Tony Parker holding the top spot with 17 consecutive postseasons, and one postseason away from being 10th all-time in consecutive postseasons, a list led by John Stockton and Karl Malone and their 19 consecutive playoffs. The last time LeBron did not make the playoffs, Shaun Livingston, who has yet to hone his unstoppable mid-range jumper, and Andre Iguodala, who still had hair, were just joining the league as rookies. The last time LeBron didn’t make the Finals, Steph Curry was a rookie. So, it’s been a while. But finally, in his 34th year of life and his 16th season in the NBA, the King’s streak is in jeopardy in a way it never before has been.
66 games into the season, the Los Angeles Lakers are 30-36, seven games behind the 8 seed San Antonio Spurs. In their first nine games out of the All-Star break, the Lakers are 2-7, losing five straight games. FiveThirtyEight has given them a less than 1% chance of making the playoffs.
But why is this season different than seasons past? Sure, the Lakers aren’t really good this year. But the 2017-18 Cavs also were not that good, and LeBron carried them to the Finals. This year LeBron leads the Lakers in each of the three major statistical categories, averaging 27 ppg, 8 rpg, and 8 apg. Last year on the Cavs he averaged 27 ppg, 8 rpg, and 9 apg. Sure, he had the help of Kevin Love, who did miss 21 games due to a hand fracture. But this year he has Kyle Kuzma’s 19 ppg and used to have Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball until they were recently sidelined for the rest of the season due to injuries. But what’s different this year? What changed from King James dragging J.R. Smith and the burning dumpster fire that was the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers all the way to the NBA Finals, to now not even being able to bring a team of young, up-and-coming could be stars into the first round of the playoffs? Cleveland, that’s what changed.
LeBron is hardly the man he was without Ohio behind him. Sure, he’s still really good—maybe the best ever. But he still needs something to play for, and his teammates need a common goal to buy into the LeBron James way. And without the driving force that is the desperation of Cleveland sports fans—now less desperate, but certainly not still satisfied—LeBron James has nothing to play for. It’s time to demand a trade for Jordan Clarkson and Cedi Osman and join forces with whichever Duke player Cleveland drafts next year (or Anthony Bennett-esque sleeper pick), and go for another Larry O’Brien—making us all forget about the disappointment that this year has turned out to be.